DODGER FRONT OFFICE ON THE HOT SEAT WITH FANS
February 25, 2016 by Shannon Michael Smith
The air hung bitterly over Dodger Stadium after the loss to The Mets in Game 5 of the 2015 NLDS.
Fans slammed hats to the ground, kicked garbage cans, and abused cotton candy. Effigies of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi blazed in the parking lot. And these were the sober fans.
Okay, so I made up that part about burning effigies…and sober fans. The fact is, however, that the “at least we made the playoffs” attitude is long gone. The front office is on the hot seat. Dodger fans want to win NOW. Here are some seething quotes overheard whilst livid blue crew boosters grumbled their way out of the ballpark that night.
“Those morons in the front office never got Kershaw and Greinke any help!”
“The GMs did zero at the trade deadline, and here we are again!”
F#@# Magic? I’m not sure how responsible Magic Johnson was for player personnel last year (and the ice cold Dodger bats in the playoffs), but the message was clear. Dodger fans have had enough. Why? Let’s enter the Wayback Machine and examine the boys in blue after their World Series victory in ’88.
IT’S BEEN 28 FREAKIN’ YEARS
Despite several rookies of the year in the ’90s, the team failed to make the playoffs until ’95-’96 (they were swept in the first round twice). Another decade nearly went by until Jim Tracy showed them the way in 2004. Remember Steve Finley’s clutch home run against The Giants to clinch the West? Truth be told, I nearly broke my leg celebrating (and sent Grey Goose flying), as I jumped out of a Hilton hot tub in Reno. Even after the first round elimination to The Cardinals, it felt like The Dodgers were on the way back up again.
Joe Torre’s arrival threw some gas onto the fire. The Dodgers made it to the NLCS in ’08. Yet, it was on a May evening (Manny’s bobble head night, in fact) in 2009 when optimism was at its peak. Ramirez’ game winning home run in the bottom of the 9th nearly knocked the cover off of the ball. The stadium exploded as if the team had won game 7 of the World Series. Fans left the ballpark glowing, ’09 was going to be the year they went all the way. The Dodgers were finally firing on all cylinders.
Manny’s PED bust and suspension came the next morning. Oops. The team managed to make the NLCS for the second year in a row but was sent packing by The Phillies, yet again.
A tawdry turn in ’10 demolished all hopes when The McCourt’s divorce derailed the Dodgers. Not to that mention that the greedy couple pilfered team dough, paid a psychic six figures to “think blue”, and committed feats of other bile-churning behavior. The damage of cutting off the farm system (which started an avalanche of overpaying broken down vets for bullpen help) still resonates today.
January 2012 brought Miracle Magic and the Kasten gang to town, complete with fluttering flags and cart wheeling clowns. The usual bold proclamations by a new owner were made. Surely, the Guggenheim Partners would restore The Dodgers to glory! A World Series ring seemed inevitable!
MEET THE NEW BOSS
Instead, The Who’s famous line, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, comes to mind. As everyone knows by now, a horrible TV deal has kept most Dodger fans from watching the team they love (the fact that the owners don’t seem to care about this in the slightest isn’t helping). The hiring of Friedman and Zaidi reeked of a team on the hunt for bargain basement prices. The big world series talk is long gone. Can you feel the love?
Before Friedman and Zaidi’s arrival, the front office spent money like Charlie Sheen on a coke binge. The owners went gaga to obtain Adrian Gonzalez (who’s been nothing but solid since he arrived) but Carl Crawford came with a frightening cost, $20,750,000 is owed this year alone (he’s probably worth 5% of that, although rumors are swirling that the team may dump him and eat the salary). Before the 2015 season, The Dodgers plunked 48 million down on Brandon McCarthy, who went 3-0 in four starts with a 5.87 ERA before his UCL did the splits. Losing Ryu for the entire 2015 season was another massive blow to the rotation. I think what hurt Dodger fans the most was the lack of urgency to sign either David Price or Cole Hammels before the playoffs.
When Price became available, Dodger fans salivated. Could Price be the key to an elusive title? The Dodgers response? Chase Utley, A vet second baseman. To many fans, this felt like checking into a hospital for a complex eye operation, and coming out with a butt implant. The perception of Dodger owners getting cheap heading into the playoffs STANK of Frank. Weren’t these new guys supposed to be different than the McCourts?
Meanwhile, The Dodgers won the west again (ho hum). Critics questioned their lack of a 3rd starter and correctly predicted the team’s outcome, another first round exit. Don Mattingly took some of the front office’s heat during the playoffs, what could the guy do with sub zero bats, a shaky bullpen, and no third starter? Was it just me, or did he look relieved as he mamboed off to Miami?
What have the Dodgers done for the 2016 season? Their gargantuan payroll only seems to have Kershaw ($32,000,000), Gonzalez ($21,000,000), and Crawford ($20,750,000) to show for it, not to mention Ethier’s ($18,000,000–ouch). Getting Turner and Kendrick back is good, and Corey Seager could be great, but the team let Greinke split for the snakes. Some folks have actually said that this was a good thing. The supposed depth they’ve added to replace him (Kazmir, Maeda) remains to be tested.
The Dodgers did go after closer Aroldis Chapman until he allegedly went all “Ty Cobb” with a nasty domestic incident (charges were not filed; he went to The Yankees). Although the team could use his arm, it’s probably best for The Dodgers that the deal fell through; the team doesn’t need any potential for ugly drama off the field. Isn’t there a pretty good closer by the name of Jansen in the ‘pen anyway?
After the team jacked up ticket prices again, Loren Philip, a ten-year season ticket holder, summed up his feelings when asked about the offseason.
“Greinke’s gone! I can’t f**$%#% believe it.”
The Dave Roberts management experiment doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as well. He seems like a very nice man, as my grandmother would say, and I’m sure he relates to the players well. Roberts was a decent player himself, and a former Dodger too, of course. He’s from Southern California and played baseball for UCLA. He’d been first base and bench coach with The Padres since 2010. He may well be a good manager, but the thing is, WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE HE HAS ZERO MANAGERIAL EXPERIENCE.
All right, maybe that’s not completely true. He did manage one game for The Padres last year when Bud Black was fired (they lost to the A’s 9-1).
The truth is, Don Mattingly didn’t have any management experience either, but he spent some time in L.A. before he took the reigns. Can Roberts handle the pressure from the media and a fan base itching to win now? Can he tiptoe through the delicate egos? Dealing with pugnacious Puig this spring will be akin to handling nitro glycerin. Season ticket holders might be asking themselves why The Dodgers are the training wheels to Dave Roberts new management career.
L.A. LOVES THESE GUYS
Let’s be clear, last year’s players are not drawing ire from the fans. On the contrary, L.A. loves these guys. Fans freaked when the front office lost Greinke. Kershaw is still king, despite the playoff losses (if he hadn’t won game 4 against The Mets in ’15, it could be different). Gonzalez, Ethier, Hernandez, Pederson, and Turner are also hugely popular. A lot of folks are pulling for Pederson to turn it around this year. His blinding speed in center and potential at the plate are terrific, but it’s his goofy, infectious grin (reminiscent of Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh character in Bull Durham) that keeps the dugout loose and fun to watch.
No, it’s not the players, but the front office that’s the target of fans’ wrath. Friedman says he understands Dodger fans’ passion for a world series ring. Yet, in a recent interview with Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times, his comments could be perceived as the contrary.
“I think large revenue teams can sometimes fall into a trap of focusing too much on the current, and that is something we have to be extremely mindful of,” said Friedman. “We feel like our responsibility is to do everything we can to sustain a certain level of success…”
A certain level of success? As long as The Dodgers win the west that’s all that matters? Mr. Mediocre strikes again! Can Friedman honestly think, that after the nightmare of the McCourt regime and the all the near-misses in the last decade, that Dodger fans are going to remain happy to only win the west? Is he that clueless? Quotes like that bristle the restless natives. Someone may want to remind him that 1988 was a long time ago. Preaching patience won’t fly this year.
Some perceive that Dodger fans are mellow, like Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicole character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, a bunch of half-baked goofs in the stands batting a beach ball around. Others think they’re baseball’s version of Raiders fans (the Brian Stow horror). The truth is Dodger Stadium is a very diverse place with all types of folks who usually pack the joint win or lose. Even in the lackluster ’90s they topped attendance figures.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS NOW?
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA predictions have The Dodgers winning more games than any other MLB team this year (94), touting the team’s depth. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs agrees and gave the team a B+ for their offseason grade, also touting the team’s depth. “I think it’s a better way to win baseball games,” writes Cameron. “Individually, Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson, and Kenta Maeda can’t match up to Zack Greinke, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dodgers get more from their trio than they would have gotten by just re-signing Greinke.”
Most fans see way too many question marks. Who knows if any of this new blood will work out? Can Maeda endure the rigors of a full (they are shorter in Japan and they pitch every six to seven days) MLB season? Will Pederson hit? Will Seager put together a solid full rookie season? Can Andre Ethier stay healthy and productive? Will Puig buy an alarm clock that works and arrive to the stadium on time? Dan Plesac of MLB Now pointed out that Kershaw’s window may be closing fast as he approaches his peak years, and that he (Kershaw) may never get to pitch in a rotation with the likes of Greinke again.
“It’s a wait-and-see thing for me this year,” says Dodger fan Philip. “The way the front office wasted the one-two whammy of Kershaw and Greinke…I have zero trust in anything the front office can put together, it’s a joke!”
Sadly, for many Dodger fans, it’s a joke that’s beginning to wear thin.